Some of the latest talk out there in the last few days has been about this Religion News Service article in The Washington Post, this GetReligion post, the topic of the “feminization of Christianity” and the consequent decline in the numbers of men attending church services. The post includes a quote from David Murrow, author of Why Men Hate Going to Church, which has been making the rounds. Joanna of Fey Accompli affirms her agreement with what Mr. Murrow says here:
“Every Muslim man knows that he is locked in a great battle between good and evil, and although that was a prevalent teaching in Christianity until about 100 years ago, today it’s primarily about having a relationship with a man who loves you unconditionally,” Murrow said. “And if that’s the punch line of the Gospel, then you’re going to have a lot more women than men taking you up on your offer because women are interested in a personal relationship with a man who loves you unconditionally. Men, generally, are not.”
Where shall I begin? Let’s start with the easy stuff. Islam is not principally concerned with a great battle between good and evil, but with the complete submission to the will of Allah. Part of that submission then entails a way of life and dedication to the cause of Islam, part of which involves struggling against what Allah has deemed evil, be it in the forms of the nafs within or the kafir outside.
Christianity, even in its more obnoxiously silly forms, does not preach a personal relationship with a man who loves you unconditionally, but Christ crucified and risen from the dead and all that this entails. Some are not very strong on the “all that this entails” bit, but most (Bishop Spong et al. excepted) do manage to understand this important point. Christianity preaches that Christ is God, and that we should love Him with all our heart, soul and mind because He is the Lord God. If it were not so, Areios would have been right and there would today be a lot fewer Christians of either sex, since there is no salvation or hope in such a man and little good reason to adhere to such a religion.
There is an all together too common misperception, which allows the charlatans of the Da Vinci Code sort to peddle their nonsense so successfully among the semi-educated, that because Christ was and is individually a man that we should speak of Him in terms of maleness, mistaking this for masculinity. Christ possessed the whole human nature, both male and female, and if He had not our common nature would not have been healed–just as He “created them male and female,” so in Himself He recreated and redeemed us male and female. There is no idea more misogynistic and twisted than conceiving of Christ simply as a male to whom women will relate better (since thinking of Christ only in terms of maleness would cut women out of the economy of salvation), so naturally it would probably be the sort of idea feminists might adopt in their attacks on Christianity. But as C.S. Lewis observed some time ago (and still it has not sunk in, even among some Christians), in relation to God all people are essentially feminine. In this sense, to say that Christianity is being “feminised” is to give the phenomenon in question the wrong name–in relation to God, Christians should be the most “feminine” of all (though this would be to use very old-fashioned, nay, reactionary ideas of what feminine virtues are, which would make the so-called “feminised” Christians very unhappy). So to speak of the changes in modern Christianity as “feminisation” is to mistake making churches womanish, if you will, with making them truly feminine.
What is happening is that the Faith in these sorts of churches is being sentimentalised, trivialised and reduced to the level of feeling, which is to take the Pearl of great price and drop it in the muck of the passions while pretending that this leads to closer communion with God. In our common revulsion at this sort of Christianity, Joanna and I are surprisingly and very unusually in strong agreement.
Certainly in the sappier pop-evangelical and mainline churches a personal relationship with Christ that tends to minimise all mention of repentance, mortification of the passions and virtue is the standard. This trend can be traced, respectively, to a preoccupation with either “relevant” lectures (complete with PowerPoint presentations) or “relevant” social activism rather than simply preaching the Gospel, giving thanks to God and partaking of the sacraments. The lamentable tendency within Christian pop music to describe man’s relationship with God in the same terms reserved for sappy love songs (hardly reaching the ecstatic adoration of a Julian of Norwich in its banal, uninspired and derivative lyrics, and thus completely failing to participate in divine Eros but replacing intelligent hymnography with what we might call liturgical pornography) ought to drive both men and women out of the churches that promote this doggerel.
This is, in fact, a sort of Christianity that makes you more preoccupied with your own emotional state and responses, rather than transforming and redirecting these energies towards God. Men may find this sort of religion less compelling because, well, this sort of religion is pointless from the perspective of living in Christ and also because it provides no role for men as men. It remains hard for me to understand why such self-absorbed religion should really appeal more to women–as a Christian, one would have to have a low opinion of women to think that they actually find this sort of thing more meaningful. This sort of Christianity ought to alienate men and women alike.
But I do understand why it drives men away. This sort of Christianity eschews authority, and thus also diminishes the need for leadership. It tends to belittle dogmatic questions, replacing the firm boundaries of doctrine with an empty-headed rhetoric of irrational good feelings. Those hierarchical churches, such as the Church of England, that tend to drift doctrinally and liturgically lack the visible signs of continuity with the Church of the Apostles that all people should crave and so tend to lose men, who apparently take more of an interest in determining that the faith they confess is the orthodox one and that the liturgical life in which they are participating is actually worship of God and not self-satisfying social gatherings. There are, of course, many serious, faithful women who concern themselves with orthodoxy, but they do not seem to be broadly representative.
However, this would hardly be Eunomia if I didn’t offer a few comments that are sure to agitate Joanna. At the end of her post she says:
I was so focused on the unconditional love part that I failed to realize that Murrow seems to be suggesting that the violence and warlikeness of Islam – actual or metaphorical – is what keeps men engaged. Surely he’s not recommending we reenergize that in Christianity??
It is not a question of actual or metaphorical “violence and warlikeness” as such that Mr. Murrow seemed to be mentioning in his rather inaccurate summary of the reason for men’s attachment to Islam. It is a question of how much a religion chooses to emphasise conflict and struggle, and consequently how important askesis, podvig (labour) and spiritual warfare are in its spirituality. It may be telling that the church with the most rigorous fasting regimen in the modern world, the Orthodox Church, is also the only Christian church in America mentioned by Leon Podles in the GetReligion post that has a majority of men attending. The language of spiritual warfare is as old as St. Paul and recurs in the writings of the Fathers time and again, and to the extent that modern Christians neglect it they have neglected their own inheritance and their saving remedy. Following Christ Crucified is not supposed to be a sentimental journey, but one defined by the Way of the Cross. If some American men respond more readily to that message than American women, this is certainly surprising, since laziness and lack of discipline are virtually proverbial characteristics of the American male.
Disinterest in religion expressed in terms of struggle is connected to the diminished respect for doctrine: to the extent that doctrine is exclusionary, because it insists that some things are irretrievably false and dangerously so, it entails the occasional defense and polemic that involve struggle, and to endure in these struggles the proper discipline and labour are needed. Islam appeals to deracinated Western men in the numbers that it does (and for a brief time even appealed to me) because so many forms of Christianity seem to offer religion that minimises the importance of struggle and spiritual labour and tends to convey the Gospel of love of God and love of neighbour in the treacliest ways. If the choice comes to be between a barbaric fighting faith and the Church of Kumbayah, the former will always win over more religiously-inclined men in the end.
The problem for the wider society if men flee Christianity in increasing numbers is that it will eventually lead to the decline and disappearance of Christianity in those countries where this happens, because it remains the case that the professions, habits and ideas that men endorse are still those that tend to prevail, even in late modern Western society, and if they tend towards abandoning Christianity the place of the Faith in our society will fall even further than it has already. Already in Europe the association of Christianity with superstitious and sentimental women and the view of Christianity as something that most reasonable men did not bother with was well-established by the turn of the twentieth century–the collapse of some branches of Christianity into increasing fideism has hardly helped convince men that the Faith is fundamentally and supremely rational (in part because doctrine has received so much less serious attention or respect)–and the collapse of Christianity in western Europe as the religion of the broad majority of people followed suit.